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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Free Agent Boosts and Busts

If you’re like me (and you’re reading this, so you are) you’ve spent most of the offseason repeatedly and compulsively hitting the refresh button at MLBTraderumors.com. It’s open in another tab right now, and as you’re deciding whether or not to finish this article, the need to get the next Masahiro Tanaka update is starting to creep in. See, you don’t just want to find out if Tanaka is right for your fantasy squad, but you’re eagerly awaiting any sliver news on Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez

But take a step back. There’s plenty of time for those guys to find new homes that make or break their fantasy value. What about those guys who already did find new homes? What will you do with them?

Me, I’ll break ‘em down into three groups: Busts, Boosts, and…Neutrals, because I couldn’t think of something clever or alliterative that means the same thing.

Prince Fielder: Neutral

Someone in your league is gonna reach for the Prince. “Prince Fielder in Texas!” that person shouted some months ago, “Fantasy gold! First round pick!” Go ahead and let someone else be that excited. Now, I’m not down on Prince, but I don’t think the Ballpark in Arlington is going to be his savior. 

Let’s check out a couple basic park factors. According to ESPN, Fielder’s 2013 home of Detroit had a 1.139 factor last year good for third-friendliest in baseball. His famously hitter-friendly new home? Texas had a 0.985 factor, good for 17th in baseball. Putting it two slots behind Safeco Field in Seattle! Now, I know a single year’s park factor can swing dramatically…but that’s kind of my point: you can’t bank on Ballpark in Arlington to help Prince, because you can’t even count on it being a hitters’ park in any given year!

Homers were no better, as Detroit added a few homers (1.013) and Texas suppressed a few (0.903). The biggest take-away is that a new park is not a sure thing. There is some good news, though: according to Fangraphs, Texas did manage to add homers for lefties, compared to Detroit’s neutrality. Less than good news, is that the ballparks in three of Fielder’s four new top opponents all suppressed lefty homers. 

To me, the ballpark change is a neutral one. It might help a little, but that will probably be offset by the road parks he plays in. I didn’t delve much into the lineups, but he’s leaving one good offense for another. Fielder is a quality hitter, but one who’s transitioning from elite to good and even the Ballpark in Arlington can’t stop that. He’s more of a third-rounder than a first-rounder.

Ian Kinsler: Bust

What about the man Prince was traded for? I’m calling bust, but it has more to do with the player than the park. As we saw above, the park factors for Texas and Detroit aren’t that different, and they’re even closer for right-handed homers—which means they won’t be able to stave off a decline that’s been pretty steep over the last couple years.

Mid-teens numbers in homers and steals is okay…but not all that special. Neil Walker pretty much does that. Okay, he doesn't steal, but you get my point. With essentially unchanging surroundings, Kinsler isn’t going to live up to his name brand next year. 

Robinson Cano: Neutral

Yankee Stadium is a great place for power hitters. Safeco Field is not. That much we know, and it’s already priced into what you’ll be paying for Cano. The Yankees have a good lineup (though last year, not so much) and the Mariners do not. Also priced in. And neither one matters.

You see, Cano is still so much better than the next best second baseman that he’s still worth a first round pick. He doesn’t have to outhit nearly all first basemen to be worth one of the top twelve draft picks…but he does that anyway. Even if you took away ten homers from Cano’s total, he wouldn’t slip down to the tier of mortal second basemen. Yeah, the power is probably going to be lower, but everything else should be close. Given the sour impression your opponents may have about playing in Seattle, Cano might slip to the end of the first round or the beginning of the second…in which case, you’ll be glad he found a new home.

Justin Morneau: Boost

I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile, and, honestly, it’s one of my favorite free agent moves of the offseason. How recovered Morneau is from his concussion and the effects thereof, I can’t say. But I wouldn’t be able to guess at that no matter where he ended up. He’s a gamble, and one you shouldn’t bet the farm on. (Certainly, the Rockies aren’t risking that much on him.) But Coors Field gives him a fighting chance at fantasy relevance, and that’s all I ask for.

Last year, Morneau played in two of the worst parks for homers: Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, and Minnesota’s Target Field. By ESPN’s numbers, Minnesota suppressed homers by nearly 20%, and Pittsburgh by over 30%. (But note that Fangraphs agrees in principle but not extremity.) Colorado added about 15%.  By some pretty rough math, that takes Morneau’s 17 homers and makes them 22. That isn’t bad, but it isn’t why you draft him. You draft him (and late, mind you) because combined with the chance of getting back into the regular swing of baseball with another year removed from his concussion, there could be a spark of his former greatness. And if it doesn’t work…well, you’ve got someone you can use when he plays at home.

Curtis Granderson: Bust

Before his injury last year, Curtis Granderson was in my projected second round. See, I love power hitters, especially the more scarce they get. I figured him for a 40-homer threat, and maybe he was. Not anymore.

In a lot of parks—and definitely Yankee Stadium—I could excuse a player’s decline. I don’t care if you’re worse than last year so long as you give me value for draft position. But not in CitiField. Grandy might only be moving across town, but he might as well be moving to the Dead Ball Era.

It’s not all about the park, which is more like going from excellent to neutral, than it is a real killer. It’s that, plus the whole situation. His park effect gets worse, his lineup gets worse (way worse), and his competition gets better. Forget for a moment how good the AL East is and think of how good the NL East pitching is. Think about the rotations the Braves, Nationals, and Phillies have. (Okay, only think about half of the Phillies’ rotation.) Mix that environment with Granderson’s inability to hit lefties and his overall declining trends and I’m staying away.

Scott Kazmir: Boost 

Why Scott Kazmir became horrible, I don’t know. Why he turned back to good, I also don’t know. What I do know, is that he did, and that his 2013 performance was impressive. I’d draft him next year if he were still pitching for Cleveland, but the A’s cannily swooped in and signed him for a couple years. He’s a risky guy because you don’t get to fall off the map with control issues for years at a time and not be risky. But the upside is tons of strikeouts and decent rate stats and wins. 

Kazmir had a pretty rough ERA last year, at 4.04, but his FIP (3.51) and xFIP (3.36) suggested that a little luck and maybe different scenery could help. And Oakland is pretty much the perfect place for him to end up. First of all, his team defense (provided it remains similar to last year) goes from a significant negative, as Cleveland was 25th in the Majors in UZR, to a slight positive, as the A’s were 12th.

The park factor could be even bigger though. Here Fangraphs and ESPN disagree, with Fangraphs calling the parks nearly even last year. According to ESPN, however, Kazmir is leaving a hitters’ park for one of the most extreme pitchers’ parks in the league. It’s a logical fallacy to assume that the truth lies between points of disagreement, so I won’t tell you to split the difference…I’ll just say there’s a chance ESPN will be right, and if they are it’s very good news for Kazmir. And if not, well, the defense should help his ERA and WHIP anyway, and the bullpen ought to hang onto his leads. It’s a good situation.



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